Women hit the road for two tough tests

Junior Brianna Knue volleys the ball during a match against Illinois-Chicago at the Atkins Tennis Center, Sunday, Feb. 6. Daily Illini file photo

Junior Brianna Knue volleys the ball during a match against Illinois-Chicago at the Atkins Tennis Center, Sunday, Feb. 6. Daily Illini file photo

By Derek Barichello

When 54th-ranked women’s tennis travels to No. 33 Wisconsin on Saturday and Big Ten leader No. 3 Northwestern on Sunday, the team will need to look no further than senior Cynthya Goulet for motivation.

One of the Illini’s biggest concerns going into this weekend is their singles play at the bottom of the lineup. In their last two matches, the Illini have not come away with a single victory at the No. 3, 4 or 5 spots. The bottom three have won just one match in Big Ten play.

Goulet, who plays at the top singles spot for the Illini, has lead by example, winning 19 of her last 20 matches. Although Goulet is talented, assistant head coach JoAnne Russell said it’s her attitude that has made her so tough.

“This year she has never said ‘no’ to me,” Russell said. “That’s the kind of attitude I want out of the bottom of our lineup. When Cynthya is playing bad, I’ll go up to her and say ‘Cynthya, why don’t you try this?’ and she’ll look at me and go, ‘Yeah!’ And she tells herself she can do it.”

Russell recalls Goulet’s singles match last Saturday as one such example. Goulet was not at her best and her opponent Keri Thompson of Michigan State, who is ranked No. 121 in the country, was playing well.

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“The other girl was looping and chipping and making everything,” Russell said. “So I told Cynthya when she started to get a little frustrated, ‘Even when you are playing bad, your bad is just as good as her best.’ So Cynthya looked at me and said ‘Yeah, that’s right,’ and she was able to get the job done.”

Russell said that has been what is lacking from the bottom of the Illini’s singles lineup.

“We need to say it more: ‘Yes, I can,'” Russell said. “If you tell yourself you cannot do something, you are not going to get it done; but when you tell yourself you can do it, and you tell yourself enough times, it starts to become true.”

Russell said the key to her success when she was a professional tennis player was always her positive approach.

“I’ve lost seven straight first-round matches before,” Russell said. “Even then, I would sit back there, after someone has just given me their best serve and bounce around saying, ‘Come on, that was lame, I can return that.’ Staying positive is half the battle, and when I would get a ball to finally go my way that would boost my confidence.”

Russell said if the bottom of the lineup stays positive and gets one of those balls to bounce their way, the Illini could become a force to be reckoned with.

“Our top three players are 17-1 in the Big Ten, that’s amazing,” Russell said. “We have plenty of talent at the bottom of our lineup, and when they start playing well we can beat anybody.”

Head coach Sujay Lama said in Wednesday’s loss to No. 26 Notre Dame the lineup showed improvement in their play and in their attitude.

“Coming into this weekend, I’m very confident in our ability to win singles matches in all six matches,” Lama said. “(Sophomore ) Emily (Wang) played better, (junior) Brianna (Knue) gave herself a chance to win and (freshman) Alejandra (Cuadra) is going to be put back into the lineup at No. 6. She has been playing well in her exhibition matches and I think she’s ready to go.”